I’ve spent the last few days on Rusinga Island, situated on Lake Victoria at the mouth of the Winam Gulf. We (access:energy) had been invited by the Village Vocations Programme (VVP) to conduct a site assessment for some potential renewable energy installations with a view to helping communities have more affordable electricity and less reliance on firewood.
The trip was about learning and we had discussions with a number of officials, community groups and households. This is an absolutely essential part of how we work since technologies are only as good as the end-users that use it. We also want to ensure everybody can input so we can propose the best possible energy solution. A successful energy project must integrate with the local culture as well as understanding current and predicted energy usage and behaviours.
We also started gathering data on solar and wind resource. There are three sites that have been identified initially and we set up our anemometer to start gathering wind speed data. We also found the local meteorological weather station and after some enquires, we have been given permission to use this data. We are told the data is in a raw format – we aren’t exactly sure what this means yet, but have a suspicion it could be hand-written!
Rusinga Island was once a haven for naturalists, with a rich diversity in birds and vegetation. Over the last generation, over-consumption of firewood for cooking has resulted in deforestation on a grand scale, leaving a dry landscape where drought is commonplace, and soil quality and crop yields have been severely affected.
Although I hold much hope for Rusinga, it was upsetting to see the land so dry and empty. I believe things can be turned around. Forests can be replanted and methods for improving irrigation sorted out and so on, but we need enthusiasm and everyone working together with a shared vision.
Our hosts, VVP have been doing community empowerment projects on the Island for several years. Partnerships like this are really important for our projects. In this case, VVP already know the community well and have good relationships with several groups, which means we can focus on the technical design and implementation.
We found Rusinga Island to be a welcoming and beautiful island and we are looking forward to doing further work there. We also learnt a lot and witnessed some fascinating energy-related stories.